When Lindsey Averill began to seek backing for a documentary called Fattitude, she had been warned by other pro-body positivity filmmakers about the potential negative reaction from folks on the Internet. She initiated a Kickstarter campaign to acquire funding for the full-length documentary, which was described as a film that would expose “how popular culture fosters fat prejudice and then offers an alternative way of thinking.” Fantastic, right? Unfortunately, certain particularly active and particularly awful members of the Internet reacted in about as negative a way as possible.
The description on the project’s Kickstarter campaign:
Fat people are subject to discrimination everywhere they look. In children’s books and stories fat people are villains and bad guys. On our television screens and in the advertising world the fat body is a joke. Magazines and entertainment news shows fixate on the “fatness” of celebrities’ bodies and there are very few films that feature fat leads, despite the fact that 60%+ of Americans are – or at the very least consider themselves – fat.
I for one think it sounds like it could be an awesome documentary. It’s no secret that people’s bodies–whether “average,” overweight, or obese–are frequently labeled as unacceptable. There are so many young girls, as well as adults, who face harassment and bullying on a daily basis from those who have deemed their figures unsightly, unseemly and downright revolting. While there have been an increasing number of outspoken critics against fat shaming, the fact of the matter is that many people are absurdly disgusted by the idea that human beings can be anything but thin or muscular and still love their bodies.
Case in point: the reaction to Averill’s Kickstarter. According to the Daily Mail, it started out like common, cliche schoolyard bullying.
There were people who told her her time would be better spent getting off the sofa and putting away the donuts.
By the way, Averill works out with a trainer three times a week and cannot eat doughnuts because she is allergic to gluten…not that that matters to her critics. In fact, the online abuse only got worse.
Anonymous people began calling her home with rape and death threats. They ordered pizzas delivered to her home to show they had her address. They called her husband at work and extended their reach to people who appeared in the documentary and backers on Kickstarter.
A troll even took her video promo for the film, and spliced it with new footage to load on YouTube under the title: ‘Cakes: The New Comedy Hit.’
That troll’s edit was cut with racist, anti-Semitic and violent imagery.
Averill tried to get the video removed by filing a complaint for copyright infringement. The troll struck back, sending her a tweet telling her to retract the complaint ‘or else.’
As a writer on the Internet who happens to have lady parts, I know that what we put on the Internet can lead to incredibly stressful reactions that range from outward appearance critiques (“You’re an old hag with saggy tits” was a lovely one I received recently) to ill wishes (“You deserve to burn to death in a fire”) to straight up threats (“Shut up or I’ll shut you up instead”). Fun stuff, right?
For those who think women in art, film and media should simply ignore these types of threats and harassment, I strongly suggest you read Amanda Hess‘ Pacific Magazine piece, “Why Women Aren’t Welcome On The Internet,” a particularly poignant quote of which reads:
So the victim faces a psychological dilemma: How should she understand her own fear? Should she, as many advise, dismiss an online threat as a silly game, and not bother to inform the cops that someone may want to—ha, ha—rape and kill her? Or should she dutifully report every threat to police, who may well dismiss her concerns?
It is easy to brush off the threats simply as quips emitted by the most bored members of the Internet, but that is not necessarily the case. 16 percent of women will experience stalking at some point in their lives–that’s no small number, and now that the Internet pervades nearly every aspect of our lives, stalkers and bullies have found a whole new realm to release their aggression towards specific targets. It is impossible to easily identify which threats are jerks who should probably get therapists blowing off steam and which are from people who might actually want to harm you. The fact that Averill had numerous people sharing her personal information on the Internet means that somebody who fits in the latter group could have gained access to where she lived.
Stories like Averill’s are by no means new, or even surprising, but they are still incredibly disturbing and should not be met with shrugs or “well, what did you expect?” responses. Even if you completely disagree with her on body acceptance and the detrimental power of fat shaming, it’s never okay to harass or threaten a person over the Internet or otherwise.
To support Fattitude, check out its Kickstarter campaign!